Hotels Expand Mobile Check-In Options - Business Travel News

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Hotels Expand Mobile Check-In Options

January 13, 2014 - 12:25 PM ET

By Michael B. Baker

Already available at a smattering of brands and individual hotels, mobile hotel check-in is poised for rapid expansion this year across the industry.

While check-in kiosks and other methods of avoiding the front desk line in recent years have become more commonplace at hotels, integration of mobile technology into the travel process is spurring greater adoption across some major hotel brands. At the same time, some third-party technology suppliers are providing tools for hotels and distributors to offer mobile check-in.

"You're going to see a ton of change with hotel check-in apps," Concur executive vice president of supplier and travel management company services Mike Koetting said in November during a Business Travel News conference in Dallas. "There's a tremendous opportunity to avoid the front desk, but it does require some infrastructure investment from hotels."

Marriott Hotels, for example, during the first half of this year plans to offer mobile check-in at all 500 of its hotels globally, at least for Marriott Rewards members. Guests who are members can check from via the Marriott Mobile App from 4 p.m. on the day before arrival. Upon arrival, their key card is waiting for them at a designated mobile check-in desk.

Hyatt Hotels and Resorts has a similar process at select hotels, with kiosks available for incoming guests to retrieve keys.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide's Aloft brand has taken a slightly different approach at the nine properties currently piloting the Smart Check-In program. Guests receive an Aloft-branded Starwood Preferred Guest Card and, on the day of their arrival, receive a text message telling them their room number. They then can head straight to their room and use the SPG card as their key.

Third parties also have been developing mobile check-in technology. Mountain View, Calif.-based CheckMate late last year launched a beta version of a mobile check-in platform, which it piloted with a handful of hotels in California. Hotels using the technology, which works with any property management system, receive a daily report of arriving guests and can send out white-labeled emails the day before a guest arrives.

"Guests could send in-room requests, arrival times and add loyalty numbers or special requests," said CheckMate co-founder Anthony Maggio. "On the day of arrival, hotels access that information and can go in and assign rooms in advance."

Besides individual hotels, hotel distributors including online travel agencies and travel management companies also can use the CheckMate platform, Maggio said. Distributors can field guests' requests and send them to a hotel prior to arrival, even if that hotel itself is not using the technology. Hotel booking and search tool Room 77 acquired CheckMate in April 2013 and is among its first distribution partners, along with PointsHound and the Alliance Reservations Network.

Maggio said that he would like to work with corporate travel agencies, as "a lot have not had the budget or resources for this type of operation, and we think their travelers would definitely benefit from these kinds of things."

Concur's Koetting said as more hotels retrofit their properties with the appropriate technology, it soon could be commonplace to check in online and get a bar code readable by a key dispenser near a hotel's elevator. As mobile check-in expands, front desk arrangements also could evolve to adapt, he added. Some hotels might move to models like an Apple Store, with roving employees allowing "the front desk to come to you," he said.

Aloft's mobile check-in capabilities already have spurred rethinking about the front desk, said Starwood vice president of specialty select brands Paige Francis. At the Harlem Aloft in New York City, for example, the desk is in the center of the front lobby. "We took the front desk off the back wall and put our talent in the middle of the space," Francis said. "Some people do want to bypass the front desk, but with it in the middle, they can interact with them in a more meaningful way when they want to interact with them."

Some previous mobile check-in strategies have been slow to expand. For example, Holiday Inn's Mobile Room Key program, in which the mobile phone itself becomes a guest's key, first began tests in 2010 but remains deployed only in a handful of hotels. Sabre TripCase director of project management Ben Newell said some early attempts were "a solution looking for a problem."

"People don't necessarily hate keys; the real problem is they didn't want to go to the front desk," Newell said. "With this, the technology got a little ahead of itself, though it may end up being a solution eventually."

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